‘Once-in-a-century pathogen’: Bill Gates warns of coronavirus threat

Americans should be concerned about the threat of COVID-19, says billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.

The Microsoft co-founder wrote in an opinion piece for The New England Journal of Medicine Friday that the coronavirus disease now spreading in the U.S. could be “the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about.” COVID-19 has already killed one person in the U.S., according to CNBC.

“I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume it will be until we know otherwise,” Gates added Friday, according to the Washington Examiner.

Gates and his wife Melinda, who funnel their philanthropic work through the aptly named Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have already pledged to donate up to $100 million of their own wealth toward efforts at combating the deadly disease.

Not if, but when

In his Friday article, Gates stressed the need for a rapid, coordinated, and well-funded response to what he called the coronavirus “pandemic.” (The World Health Organization, for its part, has not declared the disease a “pandemic” at this point, according to the Associated Press.)

“The long-term challenge — improving our ability to respond to outbreaks — isn’t new,” Gates wrote. “Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic whose speed and severity rivaled those of the 1918 influenza epidemic was a matter not of if but of when.”

Gates expressed two major regarding the coronavirus disease — namely, the disease’s suspected mortality rate and the apparent ease with which it can be transmitted from person to person.

From what he has seen, Gates suggested, COVID-19 “can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems.” With an estimated mortality rate of around 1%, Gates pegged the severity of the outbreak somewhere between the deadly global influenza panics of 1957 (which had a rate of 0.6%) and 1918 (2%) — “many times more severe than typical seasonal influenza,” he wrote.

As for the relative efficiency of transmission, Gates wrote:

The average infected person spreads the disease to two or three others — an exponential rate of increase. There is also strong evidence that it can be transmitted by people who are just mildly ill or even presymptomatic.

The next epidemic

Gates went on to call for cooperation between local, state, and federal governments, along with “public health agencies” and private companies, to “slow the virus’s spread.”

“But we also need to make larger systemic changes so we can respond more efficiently and effectively when the next epidemic arrives,” Gates warned.

It remains unclear at this time just how bad the coronavirus outbreak will truly be in the U.S.; at this point, the majority of COVID-19 cases have occurred in China, and the nation’s communist regime is being less than forthcoming about what is happening. That said, preparing for the worst while hoping for the best is not a bad thing — and it seems that’s exactly what President Donald Trump has in mind.

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